THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE
The history of the Yamaha YZ250 is the history of motocross in America. No other machine has been
the platform for so many firsts. The list of technologies
that debuted on the YZ goes on and on: reed valves, single-shock suspension and power valves all started with
this bike. There’s no telling what the history of motocross
would look like if not for the YZ250 and the people who
built it, but it certainly would be very, very different.
On top of all the firsts, there’s a very significant last on
the YZ’s resume. Today, it stands as the last 250cc two-
The very history of motocross in one bike
1972: The first YZs were constructed by Don Jones for his son
Gary, then shipped to Japan for study. This was the bike Gary
rode in 1972, which was the first year for a separately run
U.S. motocross championship.
1974: The first production YZ250A was a “works replica” sold
in addition to a less-expensive 250MX.
Perhaps one reason the YZ is so indelibly mixed with
the history of American motocross is because it was
developed here. The very first YZ didn’t come out of a
well-lit R&D room at a Japanese factory. It was built in
Southern California by Don Jones for his son Gary.
Yamaha let the Jones clan go wild on the existing DT-1
two-stroke. The bike that resulted won the first AMA
motocross championship, then was shipped back to
Japan to become the first production YZ. Jones won two
titles for Yamaha, the first of which was taken from the
Inter-Am Series. In the meantime, the Monoshock rear
suspension system was being developed in Europe by
Hakan Andersson, who used it to win the 1973 250 World
Championship. There’s an excellent account of that story
stroke from Japan. That makes it the longest-running
production dirt bike in the world—maybe even the
longest-running motorcycle model of any kind outside of
Milwaukee and Russia.
Perhaps more than anything, the YZ250 is known for the
legendary riders who used it to win. The list includes Gary
Jones, Bob Hannah, Mike Bell, Ricky Johnson and Jeremy
McGrath, to name a few Americans. In Europe, Hakan
Andersson, Neil Hudson and Americans Danny LaPorte
and Donny Schmit gave the YZ its championships.
Pierre Karsmakers won the inaugural Supercross Series
for Yamaha in 1974, but the next American YZ250 champion didn’t come along until 1977, when Bob Hannah moved
up to the 250 class and utterly dominated motocross for
the next three years. In that time, he won three Supercross
titles, two outdoor championships and had a 22-moto winning streak. This was, of course, the height of the works
bike era, when factories were spending hundreds of thousands on exotic factory bikes. But Yamaha made a point to
race production-based bikes at certain times in this period,
both with Hannah and later with Rick Johnson.
After Hannah broke his leg at the end of the 1979 season, Mike Bell won his lone Supercross title in 1980; Broc
Glover raced and won on the 250 from time to time,
although he was more closely associated with the YZ125
and YZ490. Then came Ricky.